Engineering student challenges gender stereotypes


Megan Cromis (’17) is used to being stereotyped. She’s a female student majoring in engineering, a field that traditionally attracts males.

According to the National Science Foundation, of 973,000 total employed engineers with bachelor’s degrees, only 132,000 (13.6 percent) are women. The same holds true for engineers with advanced degrees – only 18 percent of employed engineers with master’s degrees and 14 percent of those with doctorate degrees are women.

Cromis, however, is not letting stereotypes hold her back. In her first two years at ACU, she earned a national scholarship, participated in progressive research and helped teach science to young girls.

Researching Nuclear Physics

During her freshman year, Cromis applied to do research with the Virginia Nuclear Physics research team at Old Dominion University in Virginia. She spent the next summer with four other ACU students helping to build sensors for an experiment based in Switzerland.

A year later Cromis received a $7,500 scholarship from the U.S. Department of Nuclear Energy University Programs. She applied for the scholarship at the suggestion of one of the professors on the research team, the first ACU student to apply for this scholarship. In the spring semester of her sophomore year, she was notified of her award.

“I was honored and surprised,” Cromis said. “I’m proud to represent ACU this way.”

Passing the Torch

Cromis, whose hometown is Denton, Texas, is the president of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) club on campus, which has about 20 members. The purpose of the club is to connect freshmen and sophomores with juniors and seniors in the engineering program.

Last spring Cromis led the WISE club to help with a science camp for middle school girls. ACU had previously participated by sending just one professor and a few students to help. This year all the WISE club members were invited to help, and Cromis became the contact between ACU and Abilene’s ATEMS (Academy of Technology, Engineering, Math and Science) high school.

The camp allowed groups of middle school girls to rotate to different stations for each field of science, including chemistry, biology and engineering. At each station, the middle school girls saw demonstrations and did hands-on activities.

“When I was in middle school no one expected me to do that,” Cromis said. “A lot of times you get this stereotype from pop culture that only the crazy girls go into hard sciences, and it’s really not like that.”

Cromis stayed in Abilene the summer after her sophomore year doing research with Dr. Tim Kennedy, associate professor of engineering and physics.

“Megan is a high achiever,” Kennedy said. “If you give her a task, you don’t doubt she’ll get it done.”

They were working on a water filtration system that could potentially help filter water in third world countries. They made it using different layers of sand and then pouring dirty water into it. The research was to see what would filter out fluoride and nitrates, which can cause disease. Cromis said she hopes this research will continue with future students and additional modifications to the filter.

Breaking Boundaries

Cromis has continued to serve as the president of WISE. She said her teachers have been supportive, and she’s grown closer to them through working as a teaching assistant, grader and secretary in the department.

“If you allowed her, Megan would lead everything,” Kennedy said. “She definitely wants to promote women in engineering.”

Cromis is considering doing humanitarian work with her engineering skills and is in contact with ACU’s Worldwide Witness program. She also hopes to get an internship so she can explore working in an engineering firm.

“Engineering is such a broad field,” Cromis said. “You can do anything with it. If you want to design nuclear reactors, you can do that. If you want to work in the third world putting in wells, you can do that.”

Cromis is breaking stereotypes not only through her own work, but also by mentoring those younger than her. She said ACU’s engineering program is good for female students because it has a higher percentage of women than many engineering programs nationwide, and offers many ways for women to get involved. Cromis herself is taking every opportunity to pass on her enthusiasm for engineering.

“Don’t be afraid just because there’s so many guys in engineering. It’s changing, slowly but surely.”